Wednesday 18 September 2019

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Infrastructure | Transport

Sleeper coach buses in a dock

 

Sleeper coach buses, one of the attraction for the tourists travelling down to Goa, are in deep trouble. The state has banned all the vehicles, plying to Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore.

Panic-struck bus owners, after detaining their buses, rushed to the court twice to get it released while the tourist season has reached a peak here with thousands of tourists flocking to Goa to enjoy the festive Christmas mood.

The concept of converting seats into actual sleepers was introduced seven years ago and travellers enjoyed it immensely. The first preference thus always remained the sleeper, failing which the luxury coach was then chosen.

"Mere sleeper cannot be the comfort. It should fit within the technological parameters", states D A Hawaldar, the transport director. He describes it as a ‘moving coffin’, having no safety measures taken to protect the passenger, who is travelling on bumpy and slopy roads.

The transport department detained only seven buses, but around 35 buses plying on these three prime routes stopped coming to Goa, fearing further detention. They drop passengers up to Maharashtra and Karnataka borders early morning, to be carried down to the tourist state by Sumos.

"It is affecting our business severely, but we cannot displease the tourists and stop the service during tourist season", states Wilfred Dias Sapeco, one of the small bus owners running the sleeper service from Mumbai.

While converting the seats into virtual sleepers, the bus owners have also transformed the luggage space into double-bed size sleepers while the backseat top looks like a dormitory. In addition, some buses have also covered it with fixed compartments.

According to Hawaldar, in violation of rules, the buses have created extra sleepers without even insuring the passengers, like 45 actual seats against only 30 insured ones and registered legally. In addition, he says, they are also evading passenger and motor vehicle taxes.

After the bus owners rushed to the court last week, the RTO released their buses but on a condition to pay the unpaid taxes of additional seats with retrospective effect and remove the illegal seats. Rather than complying with it, the bus owners once again approached the vacation bench.

While delivering its judgement today afternoon after marathon hearing, the court granted relief only on the suspended fitness certificates but declined to speak about relaxing the conditions laid down to release the buses.

"It does not matter. Once the bus is considered fit, we can ply it without any problem. We have nothing illegal now, till the case is disposed of", states Mario Pereira of Paulo Travels, the main bus operator on all the three routes. He had actually started the sleeper coach concept in India.

But the transport authorities are still determined not to allow the buses to enter Goa, though Pereira refutes the allegation that they had extra seats fitted illegally. "Secondly, they can challan us for additional passengers but cannot detain our buses", he adds.

But the transport authorities describe the buses totally illegal. In connivance with politicians and the RTO officers, the bus owners have sought permits for contract carriage but are actually plying it as inter-state passenger carriage, having no control over bus fare, which varies between Rs 250 to Rs 650 seasonally.

Secondly, most of these buses are also permitted as camper vehicles and some as also sleeper vehicles when both the concepts do not exist in India or no rules are made for it in the motor vehicles act.

Making compartments around the sleepers, sources in the transport department disclose that some of the bus owners are literally running mobile prostitution rackets on the 600 and odd kms of distance from the three prime cities.

However, the authorities are still prepared to allow the ‘illegal’ buses – camper and sleeper – if the bus owners pay the tax arrears and remove the additional seats. Pereira, who had heated arguments with the transport minister recently, also says that the RTO action is only a personal revenge by the minister and not a public issue.






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